Forensic Accounting Degrees Online

What do films like The Untouchables and The Accountant have in common? Above all, they show forensic accountants bringing down some of the biggest criminal organizations.

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), forensic accounting is the use of accounting skills to investigate financial crime and other violations of business law. In addition, The College Board recommends that aspiring forensic accountants have analytical and detail-oriented minds. It also helps to be familiar with technology, since modern fraud examination tends to require computer work.

For those who need a flexible schedule, forensic accounting studies tend to translate well to online learning. Earning one of the forensic accounting degrees online, for instance, may allow working professionals and career changers to still maintain their work and family responsibilities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that forensic accounting combines the principles of financial analysis and auditing with the skills of investigation and law enforcement. As a result of knowing that combo, you could be prepared to work with insurance companies, banks, or government agencies.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word “forensic” means “appropriate for use in a court of law.” Accountants who detect fraud must know the standards of U.S. courts. And they must follow them closely. This is because forensic accountants usually work closely with law enforcement. That is to say, they keep an eye on financial transactions in order to look for economic crime.

Forensic accounting jobs may be found in several areas of business. And as business becomes more global, the wider range of complex tax and regulation rules are likely to create demand for accounting pros who focus on particular aspects of the field. If you have an education in forensic accounting, you may be able to find work in accountancy firms and in-house accounting departments.

The salary for these jobs tends to vary based on job sector and location. For examples, see the list of some of the top industries, states, and metro areas for accountants further down the page.

Looking into crimes like embezzlement and securities fraud is generally a big part of forensic accounting jobs. For instance, they may handle audits. Other special accounting tasks could include property valuations in cases of divorce. Moreover, they could be part of shareholder disputes. In addition, they may act as expert witnesses in court.

The most common qualification for accountants and auditors is the bachelor’s degree, according to O*NET OnLine.

The career path for those who focus on this specific area of accounting may include these steps.

  1. Take math in high school, including calculus.
  2. Sharpen your speaking and writing skills through English classes.
  3. Research your degree options and talk to an advisor.
  4. Then enroll in an accredited forensic accounting degree program.
  5. Gain work experience through a college internship, if possible.
  6. Earn your degree, and then see what the perfect online master’s in forensic accounting programs could be, should you wish to study further.
  7. After that, interview for and get hired in a forensic accountancy role.
  8. You could subsequently study for and pass the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.
  9. Lastly, you could study for and pass the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) exam.

College programs that work with your budget and support your need for flexibility could be perfect. On the other hand, a great match might be a school that has an internship program in place for this major. Once you know the answers to your questions, you should have a solid base for your program search. If you want to earn your forensic accounting degree online, make sure to look for schools that offer that type of study plan.

It is possible to pursue a accounting career with a two-year degree and then progress into a forensic role on the job. However, that is not very common. Therefore, many accounting jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the BLS. A master’s degree program may help you develop forensic skills mid-career. That is to say it’s an option if you decide you want to switch to that branch of the field after spending time in a different role.

What could you expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

Students working at this level toward a forensic accounting degree online may learn the basics of the job. You could also start to explore special forensic topics. For example, you might learn how paper trails uncover financial crimes.

Typical program length: Two years of full-time study; 60 to 90 credit hours

Standard requirements: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Topics usually include the reading of financial statements, auditing, gathering evidence and writing reports. Here are some specific courses you might take:

  • Financial accounting courses aim to teach you the goals and methods of business accounting. For instance, they could cover short- and long-term assets as well as accounting cycles. They may also explore the tools used in different types of accounting jobs.
  • Forensic accounting and fraud examination courses may look into the types and scope of fraud. In other words, students may learn how to detect fraud, determine its source and produce clear and accurate reports.
  • Managerial accounting courses are designed to teach you how to use the concepts of the field from a management perspective. They cover how to make budgets, conduct cost analysis, and prepare cash flow statements.

Possible electives: Corporate law, tax law, business math, tools of basic finance

What kinds of jobs could you pursue after earning an associate degree in forensic accounting?

An associate degree in forensic accounting may help you find work in entry-level roles, according to O*NET OnLine. You could help more senior and experienced accountants with daily tasks such as filing and report writing, for example. Options may be found in areas like business, criminal justice, public administration or accounting. Here are a few job titles that could be available:

  • Accounting assistants help keep an eye on the books. They also build reports from the data. They may research issues that come up and work to make sure that employees follow the financial rules in place.
  • Accounting technicians work to make sure that financial records are true and precise. They check through recorded data to find error. In addition, they might be asked to balance expenses with the stated budget.
  • Bookkeepers keep a record of daily business income and spending. They might also work on a firm’s payroll taxes. In addition, they could do basic audits of accounts or code and process payments.

What could you expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

Earning an online forensic accounting degree at the bachelor’s level could give you access to a wide range of job prospects. Many of these programs lead to Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees. They could also lead to Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) degrees. These programs cover types of financial fraud and fraud prevention. They may also teach you how to use dedicated software to detect and prevent white collar crime.

Typical program length: Four years of full-time study or around 120 credit hours

Standard requirements: High school diploma, GED, or TASC

Typical coursework: Study plans tend to cover business and accounting basics, plus general education. They also usually cover core topics in forensic accounting. Here are a few examples of common courses:

  • Intermediate accounting courses build on the basics and provide more context for the range of tasks in the field. For example, cash flow, equity, evaluation and complex deals are often taught at this level.
  • Auditing is a process by which a firm’s financial statements are determined to comply with accepted standards. These courses typically teach you how to audit for accuracy and compliance. They also usually discuss risk and ethics.
  • Fraud investigation is one of the key aspects of forensic accounting. Courses that address it tend to cover ways to detect fraud. For example, they might cover interview techniques. They could also study methods for looking into financial red flags.
  • Accounting theory classes explore historical and modern thought in the field. That is to say, they aim to provide a firm grasp of accounting concepts that you may use in the workplace.

Students might also need to complete a capstone project. An internship might be part of your online program, too.

Possible electives: Cost management, income tax, business ethics, finance, data science

What kinds of jobs could you pursue after earning a bachelor’s in forensic accounting?

The most common qualification for accountants and auditors is the four-year bachelor’s degree, according to O*Net Online. Graduates of bachelor’s degree programs in forensic accounting may find jobs in accounting firms or insurance companies. Governmental agencies might also be options. Examples of job titles you may be eligible for include:

  • Accounting consultant
  • Corporate accounting officer
  • Forensic accountant
  • Independent forensic auditor
  • Internal auditor

What could you expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

Online master’s in forensic accounting programs are designed to help you learn advanced business, management, and accounting skills. These could help prepare you to pursue career leadership positions. They should also help you develop the strong deductive reasoning skills. You would certainly need those to work as a combined accountant, auditor, and investigator.

Typical program length: Two years of full-time study; 30 to 45 credit hours

Standard requirements: Bachelor’s degree in forensic accounting or a related field. Some schools include a minimum GPA requirement.

Typical coursework: Subjects cover advanced topics in accounting, law, and financial reporting techniques. Examples of courses you may take:

  • Accounting information systems is a course that looks at how computers have changed the way fiscal records are kept. This kind of course usually covers how to use high tech solutions to make accounting tasks easier and more precise.
  • Accounting ethics is a vital course for anyone investigating financial transactions for fraud. It should look at ethical accounting methods and how a firm might earn and maintain public trust.
  • Information technology and fraud classes also focus on the tech side of the field. They are different from the study of accounting information systems in that they focus on fraud investigation.

Types of Master’s Degrees

Graduate degrees in forensic accounting may be earned at a college of business. Degree options include these two main forms:

  • Master of Science (M.S.): This degree has a closer focus on accounting and fraud investigation. It should also provide a firm grounding in research skills. If you want a more academic slant to your online master’s, look into M.S. programs.
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a forensic accounting concentration: The MBA differs from the M.S. in that it centers on a broad foundation in business and management. Many of these business programs feature specialized accounting courses.

The two grad-level education paths could overlap in many ways. In general, the MBA aims its focus on the workforce. But the M.S. adds more content from the theory and research side of the field.

Campus-based as well as online students may have to complete a capstone project. You might also have to do a master’s thesis as a part of your online M.S. or MBA program.

What kinds of jobs could you pursue after earning a master’s in forensic accounting?

A master’s in forensic accounting may prepare students to pursue a number of different career options. To clarify, though, public accounting firms and insurance companies are some of the main job targets in the field. According to O*NET OnLine and the BLS, here are some of the careers that you could consider:

  • Certified public accountants are some of the most trusted financial pros in the business world. The CPA exam requires 150 credit hours of education. Many hopefuls choose to earn a master’s before taking the exam.
  • Finance managers keep watch over the daily finances of businesses and nonprofits. Taking some management courses while in school for your degree might help prepare you for these careers.
  • Financial fraud analysts review financial transactions and look for signs of fraud. They need to know how to read a range of financial data. They may also help identify patterns that suggest illegal activity.
Financial fraud analysts need to know how to identify patterns that suggest illegal activity.

You may run across these non-degree study plans in your school search results. Graduate certificates often come with lower total tuition rates than full degrees. This is because they usually take less time to earn. An online grad certificate might be a great choice for accounting or finance pros who want to acquire forensic accounting skills without committing to a full degree program. Certificate programs tend to have a narrower focus than a master’s program. In addition, they are often flexible enough for a part-time study schedule through online courses.

Typical program length: Usually one year of part-time study or around 12 credit hours

Standard prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree

Coursework: These may vary based on the focus of the program. Many study plans feature an overview of the field and the basics of fraud detection. They might also show you how to serve as an expert witness. Here are a few courses you might see on your schedule:

  • Dissecting financial statements is a course that aims to teach you how to review financial statements in detail. In other words, how you might detect potential fraud.
  • Forensic accounting principles are often taught in these programs. This is because many students have B.S. or B.B.A. degrees in other subjects.
  • Litigation support is a criminal justice concept that may bring extra value to a forensic accounting education. Courses that teach it focus on discovery and presentation of legal evidence.

Possible electives: Ethics in business and accounting, accounting information systems, assurance, auditing

Accreditation

Accreditation is an evaluation process for schools. That is to say, it is when schools have their courses and services evaluated by an independent accrediting body. When you graduate from an accredited school or forensic accounting program, it means that the education you received meets or exceeds accepted standards. In addition, attending an accredited school may be required for students seeking federal financial aid. It could also determine if transfer credits might be accepted by other schools.

To see a full list of recognized accrediting bodies, visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website. Many forensic accounting programs are offered through a school’s college of business. Therefore, they could be accreditated by one of these agencies:

Certifications in Forensic Accounting

Earning one (or more) certification may help you enhance your career. The BLS reports that only those who hold an official Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential may legally file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

In addition, here are a few other professional certifications that could boost your career prospects. You may need to meet work and education requirements in order to take the exams.:

Employment Statistics for Accountants and Auditors

This 2019 industry, state, and metro area data for accountants and auditors comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, Payroll Services: 326,810
  • Management of Companies, Enterprises: 98,100
  • Oil and Gas Extraction: 8,400
  • Investment Pools, Funds: 520
  • Insurance and Employee Benefit Funds: 270
States with the highest level of employment
  • California: 148,500
  • Texas: 114,410
  • New York: 112,030
  • Florida: 71,520
  • Illinois: 51,740
  • Pennsylvania: 50,880
  • Ohio: 47,240
  • Virginia: 42,200
  • New Jersey: 39,820
  • Georgia: 36,860
Top-paying metro areas
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA: $102,090
  • Salinas, CA: $97,640
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV: $95,570
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA: $93,590
  • Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT: $92,770
  • California-Lexington Park, MD: $91,630
  • Midland, MI: $90,880
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $90,750
  • Trenton, NJ: $88,430
  • Boulder, CO: $87,910

Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Paying for college might be a challenge, but scholarship programs could help. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. Here’s a short list of scholarships to consider:

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